Home and away .. a journey

February 24, 2014
Rob Carter

_Reblogged from my personal blog, A Few Thoughts on the Word of Education … _

Home and Away You are probably already getting the flashbacks from the cheesy theme tune of this iconic Australian soap which defined the social boundaries – was it to be Kylie and Jason in Neighbours or Home and Away with the lovely Isla Fisher?!  This is not what this blog about in any real way. Instead I was interested in making sure I articulated a few things that I think we should all do…

1. Get your head up and look around

I am pretty sure my own kids think that this is solely to do with a well known insurance company but for me it is actually about a lot more…

  • we need to ensure we stop and look around us to see what is going on. In doing this we can often learn so much.
  • sometimes due to the pace and intensity of school life people can be lost from the reality of what is happening around us. At times this can lead to some very strange decisions or schools normalising some habits which should never have started in the first place.
  • SO be a meerkat and get your head up occasionally to have a broader view!

2. Be willing to share all you are doing without reservation

Children in classI was looking for a picture of a child hiding their work – nearly impossible to find but plenty of children looking exhausted or asleep at desks!

What does that tell us about current schooling? Anyway – in essence give away all you are doing. It achieves two key things;

  •  It forces you to explain what works and why – this gives you the language of learning as you can’t just say “this is just the way we do things around here” which is what we used to do! It enables you to be evaluative and reflective.
  • It ensures you come up with something new to push yourself further – you can get excited about seeing others benefit from an idea and also push yourself to do something different for the future rather than the same old routine.

3. Be willing to go on an adventure and journey

The joys of half term often include a trip to the cinema for the Carter Clan. We went to see Mr. Peabody and Sherman, which turned out to be an endearing tale of adventure through history – all made possible by a magical time machine! I’m not sure we can all achieve this but a few things are clear to me…

  • In the past, we used to rely on comparing ourselves to the school down the road… were we as good as them? How do we stack up in the local pecking order… this is flawed for a few reasons. We become insular and competitive with those closest to us. I am naturally competitive and driven to want to do “the best” for our students but not to the cost of others.
  • We will grow further by looking beyond our neighbours. When we go on holiday we try to get a change of scene or pace so this is worth looking at when we look at schools to compare ourselves to. Some of the greatest joys for us recently have been hosting teachers and leaders from China and Kazakhstan who describe education as Britain’s “best export”. Not often we hear this in the Daily Mail!

4. SO pack your passport…

This is not a picture of me or either of my children although there are some similarities in our current hairstyles! Rather than just talking about doing all this it is worth getting out there and getting on with it. I managed to do it at the start of this school year by spending some quality time with Stephen Tierney (@LeadingLearner) – you can read about the visit to St. Mary’s, Blackpool to hear more. In this professional equivalent of “Blind Date” I think we both benefitted greatly and you can see Stephen’s blog on St. Paul’s reflects this too. So where can you start… a few key things to consider..

  • Look for a school that has some similarities to you so you “speak the same language” but be willing to find somewhere that will challenge you. You can always “go compare” on the DfE performance tables and even compare up to 5 schools. If you can’t find a good match then please get in touch or ask Stephen Tierney (@LeadingLearner) or Tom Sherrington (@headguruteacher) to recommend a match from our collaborative work with  SSAT.
  • Often you will find a personal link – someone you have heard of, respect or have worked with in the past. I have heard of a number of schools who send their whole staff out to visit places.
  • The return leg is all important – making it reciprocal ensures you have a shared experience and can develop the work further. I have outlined a methodology that could be useful which we used in @Vis2040 for work with @SSAT Redesigning Schooling.

Proposed Methodology – School Visit

Introduction - In order to make the most of our exchange visit between schools it is useful to look at developing a common methodology. This also may be of use to others in planning visits between schools.

Key Activities

  • Learning Walk - at the start of the visit it is beneficial to do a “learning walk” of the school with the Headteacher or Senior Leader. This would include spending time in lessons.
  • Student Meeting – with a small group of students including one from each key stage in the school reflecting on their experience of learning in the school and what they value most.
  • Middle Leaders – meeting with a few middle leaders looking at what they perceive as the school curriculum and the value of this at the school.
  • Senior Leader – meeting with senior leaders to discuss views on the national curriculum and how this fits with their vision for the school curriculum and strategic priorities.
  • Feedback to HT and/or Leadership Team – an opportunity to share initial reflections from the discussions and add any broader perspective.


Following the visit a short write up will be provided for the school. This could be linked to the research identified within the Redesigning Schooling project and Vision 2040. As appropriate schools could look to offer these reflections as case studies to be shared online or in SSAT published materials.

5. And finally…

Perhaps it is actually about home and away after all… we need to go on the journey and get a broader perspective but there is nothing like “coming home” too. This is perhaps the balance all of us tread in school leadership. It is essential, like any relationship in life, to invest time in what matters most. In school for me this is the simple things like assembly, learning walks, being on duty, staff briefings. If we miss out out this part of the staple diet we will very quickly find that we have lost touch or don’t really know the community we lead.

I hope you have a really good second half of term – it is where the hard graft is felt most as we have the privilege and challenge of walking alongside the students as they prepare for the summer term that in some ways define their lives.

Worth every second…

Rob Carter Rob Carter is Headteacher at St Paul’s Catholic College and is actively involved in the work of SSAT. St Paul’s leads the Inspire Teaching School Alliance with a focus on professional learning, leadership and raising achievement.